Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Kings—Hants.
I am happy today to discuss Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response), tabled last December. This is an important piece of legislation that would create more accessible voting options for all Canadians. More precisely, I will outline the ways in which this bill seeks to temporarily enhance mail-in voting for electors should a general election be required during the pandemic.
We have seen during this pandemic how important accessibility is. We have even taken accessibility measures in the House, through the use of Zoom video conferencing and voting by app. Mail-in voting is a safe and accessible option for all Canadians. According to research conducted by Elections Canada, it is expected that up to five million electors would choose to vote by mail for an election during the pandemic. In comparison, approximately 50,000 electors opted for this during the 2019 federal election. This is only 1% of the turnout that could be expected during a pandemic.
Jurisdictions inside and outside of Canada that have had elections during the pandemic have witnessed a steep increase in the use of mail-in ballots. Many electors, particularly those who are most vulnerable, choose to vote in this manner because it is safe and secure. The existing federal mail-in vote system is no different, and nothing in Bill C-19 would change that.
At the same time, we need to be prepared for an expected surge in mail-in ballots, which is why Bill C-19 includes new mail-in vote measures. These measures would strengthen the current mail-in vote system by facilitating the use of this voting method for all Canadians, thereby ensuring the health and safety of electors who feel more comfortable voting from home.
In my riding of Richmond Hill, we have a large population of seniors who would greatly benefit from an expansion of mail-in voting measures. I facilitated a community council in Richmond Hill that specifically targeted advocating for seniors. One of the major concerns I have constantly heard regards engagement. The pandemic has isolated our seniors from their communities, their social circles and the government. Expanding mail-in balloting and making the process simple would ensure that our seniors do not become more disenfranchised.
Bill C-19 would temporarily establish four new mail-in vote measures: First, electors would be able to register online; second, mail-in ballot boxes would be installed at polling stations; third, electors would be able to use an identification number in lieu of a copy of their ID when registering; and fourth, electors would still have the option of voting in person even after registering for mail-in voting.
The first measure would enable electors to apply online to register to vote by mail, thereby allowing them to avoid in-person voting. This would be a critical option for those electors with significant health concerns. In addition, while online registration would provide electors with the opportunity to participate in the election process from their homes, individuals without access to the Internet would still be able to register to vote by mail. For those who are not comfortable registering online, the option to register by mail would still be available. In this way, we would not be limiting options for electors, but expanding them with an option to register for mail-in voting.
Bill C-19 would also see mail reception boxes installed at all polling stations. This measure would recognize that some electors who register to vote by mail may be too busy to return their ballot kits by mail. To support limited in-person contact, we would be providing electors with a secure and convenient means to deposit their ballots.
The third measure would provide electors with the opportunity to use an identification number instead of their ID to establish proof of identity and residence when registering to vote by mail. This measure would make it easier for electors to register to vote by mail-in ballot, especially our most vulnerable who face significant health risks.
I would note that this, like all elements of Bill C-19, is a temporary measure in which electors must consent to the use of this data when registering with an identification number. To protect against voter fraud, Elections Canada is required to hold relevant data on electors.
Lastly, with Bill C-19, electors would still have the option of voting in person even if they had already registered to vote by mail. Electors who chose to do so would have to return their mail-in ballot kits after registration or sign a declaration stating that they had not already voted by mail-in ballot. We want to help ensure the integrity of the vote this way.
Canada's federal voting system is robust, with measures already in place to safeguard electoral integrity against fraud. Elections Canada has a long history of experience administering the mail-in voting system, with extensive integrity measures and safeguards. There is no evidence to suggest that the current system enables widespread voter fraud or poses concerns for ballot security.
It is responsible to assume that an expected increase in mail-in voting may trigger the need for the chief electoral officer to adapt provisions of the Canada Elections Act during the pandemic. As such, the proposed increased section 17 authorities would allow the CEO to respond accordingly should new challenges or circumstances arise. Taken together, these measures seek to address our unprecedented times by providing extensive opportunities for Canadians to vote. We are building on a mail-in voting system that is expected to see a surge in use.
I would encourage hon. members to support this legislation and send it to committee, as mail-in voting will experience an unprecedented surge that we need to proactively address. The sooner this bill goes to committee, the sooner we will be able to do a substantive review of it, send it to the other place for approval and implement these measures before any election may be called during the pandemic.
The measures outlined in this legislation aim to do so with strength and efficiency and will support electors voting from the comfort of their homes. These measures are imperative in assuring that we do not put vulnerable Canadians at risk while also limiting large election crowds in public spaces such as schools, community centres and religious spaces, where voting booths are usually located.
In closing, in such challenging times, Bill C-19 provides ways to ensure that citizens can safely and widely participate in the electoral process.
I thank all members and urge them to support this bill and send it to committee.